“Tell me the Indian rates”, I argued, “not the ones you tell the *firangis*.”
My travels had brought me to the idyllic city of Udaipur – famous for its tourism, infamous for its expensive rates – and while wandering through the bylanes in the heart of the city, I had stumbled upon a tiny store that sold beautiful, hand-crafted, leather-bound journals. Eager to buy one, I had embarked upon an endeavour that I am singularly unequipped to complete – bargaining.
“In any case, you must’ve jacked up your rates the moment you saw me get off my bike. Any tourist like me is an easy customer”, I continued.
“No, no, Sir!”, the shopkeeper pleaded. “You don’t look like a customer at all. With that shaandaar – magnificent – moustache, you look like a localite.”
My chest swelled further by a few more inches, I whipped my wallet out with flourish and tipped him handsomely. As I write this, I realize that he probably used flattery to trick me.
But then, he wasn’t so off the mark either, was he?
It is time to address the elephant in the room. I am always noticed for my moustache. I usually am complimented for it – and this includes even random strangers on the street and at traffic signals, struggling to muster up the courage to do so. I am very infrequently criticized for it – chiefly by my beloved Mother. But I am always, always noticed for it. And regularly questioned.
Hence, my decision to collect and narrate stories – and address questions about it.
First and foremost, the most popular question – I have never shaven it off. I have had it ever since I started growing one, which was sometime around Class 9. The style has changed over the years, but the moustache has always stayed.
The second most popular question – who is my “inspiration”? This is quite a difficult one to answer. The Chattrapati had a magnificent one. Rau had a marvellous one as well. So did Hercule Poirot, and one of my idols – Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Saab. That nice chap who was helping me out with the form-filling during my Civil Services Exam Final Interview reckoned that it looked a lot like Field Marshal Manekshaw (a very high honour).
But the long and short of it is that it has no inspirations. It has been me all the way. Whatever fancy struck me, whatever I felt like doing – that is what I went with.
Doesn’t it make me look much older? Yes.
Do I care? Not a tiny bit.
Doesn’t it make me look intimidating? Hell, yeah!
Do I care? Of course! I love it!
Is it difficult to maintain? Of course. I take 15 minutes to shave.
Isn’t it tricky to style? Yes it is. It is quite intricate.
Does it require conditioning? Yes. Coconut oil works best for me.
Doesn’t it get hot? Stupid question.
Doesn’t it tickle? Another stupid question.
Am I worried about tanning? A stupid-er question.
Will I ever consider taking it off? That’s the dumbest question of the lot.
And now for the most difficult question – why do I keep it? That’s the most difficult question to answer. People have pre-set notions and expect you to confirm to them. They do not comprehend an answer that does not fit into their framework – square pegs, round holes.
Most people consider it to be a sign of machismo, which it isn’t. The sort of man you are isn’t determined by the size of your moustache – it is determined by the way you behave, every day. It is not a social convention, it is not a religious convention – I don’t care for either. I don’t do it to grab attention, I don’t need to.
I do it for one simple reason – because I want to.
I’ve been presumed to be a Tamilian in Chennai. I’ve had the security guards in the Delhi Metro break into Telugu while chatting with me. I’ve been called “Bana” in Jaipur, and considered Haryanvi in Faridabad. A security guard hailing from Illahbad, working in Mumbai, told me that I seem a proper “UP-walle-bhaiyya”.
Across the width and breadth of the nation, it’s a remarkable journey.